Mock draft season is rolling hard and fast at the moment, and it continued Thursday morning with The Athletic’s annual beat writer mock draft, which had a beat writer for each team make a selection in the first round.
For the Steelers, The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly snagged a popular name for Pittsburgh — as of late — landing Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez at No. 17 overall in the exercise.
“In a perfect world, one of the top tackles would be available at No. 17 for the Steelers. With those guys off the board, the Steelers hit one of their other great needs they have rarely addressed in the first round in a quarter century — cornerback,” Kaboly writes regarding the selection of Gonzalez at No. 17 overall. “Artie Burns was taken in the 2016 first round. Before that, you have to go back to Chad Scott in 1997. With Cam Sutton a free agent and no real shutdown corner on the roster including Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, William Jackson III and James Pierre, a tough, physical, versatile corner who can start from Day 1 is a no-lose situation for the Steelers. Christian Gonzalez is a 20-year-old redshirt sophomore and still will mature physically and mentally in the next few years.”
Though the expectation is that Cameron Sutton will be retained ahead of free agency, the Steelers still have a rather large need at cornerback behind him and Levi Wallace, who had a strong season in the black and gold after coming over in free agency from Buffalo last offseason. Outside of Sutton and Wallace, names like Arthur Maulet and James Pierre remain on the depth chart, but guys like Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III are expected to be released to save some cap space.
That makes the cornerback position a rather large need for the Steelers moving forward, which is addressed in the beat writer mock draft with Gonzalez, though it wasn’t an easy decision for Kaboly as names like Arkansas LB Drew Sanders, Clemson LB Trenton Simpson, USC WR Jordan Addison, Clemson DT Bryan Bresee and Florida OL O’Cyrus Torrence were still on the board at the time of the selection.
Prior to Pittsburgh’s pick, the top left tackles in Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski (No. 8, Chicago), Ohio State’s Paris Johnson (No. 11, Tennessee) and Georgia’s Broderick Jones (No. 16, Washington) were all off the board.
Gonzalez certainly is an intriguing prospect with great size and athleticism, not to mention good ball skills for the position.
A Colorado transfer, Gonzalez was a star at Oregon this season, finishing with 50 tackles, four interceptions, seven passes defensed and one tackle for loss on the season for the Ducks. Prior to the season, Gonzalez was named to The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman’s “Freaks List” for his athleticism.
Gonzalez was clocked at 23.3 MPH on a GPS tracker, jumped 42 inches and power-cleaned 325 pounds as a 6-foot-2, 200-pound cornerback.
According to PFF, Gonzalez — a redshirt sophomore — allowed a 74.7 passer rating, which ranks 140th in college football among corners with at least 100 snaps. Gonzalez was targeted 64 times in 2022, the most in his team. He allowed 39 catches for 495 yards as a member of the Ducks.
In three seasons in college, Gonzalez recorded 128 tackles with four interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
Elsewhere in the AFC North in the beat writers mock draft, the Baltimore Ravens and writer Jeff Zrebiec selected Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba at No. 23 overall. The Cincinnati Bengals and writer Jay Morrison grabbed Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks at No. 29 overall, and the Cleveland Browns were without a selection due to the Deshaun Watson trade.